By Joe Vazquez

SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — When he posed for a Facebook picture in his hospital room on December 26th, Matthew “Matty” Walker of Santa Rosa thought he had pneumonia. It turns out it was much more serious: the H1N1 flu virus.

Doctors tried to save him. But he never recovered. He died Wednesday at the age of 23.

Walker was a graduate of El Molino High School in Forestville. He was an avid skateboarder and musician who played the harmonica and saxophone and worked two jobs.

“He was like family,” said Connie Petersen of the G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa. “When we heard he passed away, everybody was shocked. Everybody’s still in shock.”

The folks at the G&G supermarket say they’ve known since he was a child, helping his father, Cliff Walker of Sebastopol, with the family business of cleaning floors. Matty’s second job was working for the store in the produce department.

Cliff Walker tells KPIX5 his son did not have a pre-existing medical condition.

“But he hadn’t been eating well or sleeping well or drinking enough fluids lately,” said Cliff Walker, who believes Matty’s rundown condition was a contributing factor to the fact that he wasn’t able to fight off the flu.

Cliff Walker said his son was first admitted into the hospital, they treated him for double pneumonia, but once the virus took effect, doctors had to resort to inducing a coma because Matty’s oxygen levels were too low. Matty never recovered.

While not identifying him by name, Dr. Karen Holbrook, interim Sonoma County Health Officer said in a statement that a 23-year old fatal victim of the H1N1 strain of influenza was healthy when he contracted the disease.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” Dr. Holbrook stated. “While the vast majority of cases of flu have mild or moderate illness, sadly this tragic death reminds all of us that influenza can be a very serious illness.”

Holbrook said it was the only death of influenza in Sonoma County, but 8 cases of severe influenza have been reported so far in the county this flu season.

Matthew’s father believes what happened to his son can serve as a warning for others. First, that they should get a flu shot. Also, that they should take care of themselves.

“Young people – they’re all powerful – but something can catch ‘em like this, they’re laying themselves open for possible serious consequences,” said Cliff Walker.

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